Music

In Defense of In The Heights

A skit in the second episode of the brilliant second season of A Black Lady Sketch Show depicts a market research focus group with Black women for a fictious real housewives type series called Black Women Doing Stuff that hilariously doesn’t go very well. Even before the market researcher starts playing the pilot episode, one of the participants invokes Twitter and notes that she would have, “sent my 67 Tweet thread.” The market researcher starts to play Black Women Doing Stuff and the first thing we see is a leg getting out of car wearing a red high heel. Within two to three seconds, the video is paused on the leg: “I have notes!” And WOW, do they have notes:

“A show about Black women and the first thing you show us is a disembodied leg?”  

“Why not have her drive a black Jaguar?”

“Don’t link Black women with cats! We are not catty!”

“And where is Miss Leg even from? Are classy people from the diaspora excluded from this experience?”

“If she is not a descendent of enslaved people, I don’t why I am here.”

“A little light to be dark skin and a little dark to be light skin.”

You get the picture. The researcher never gets beyond the leg getting out of the car. I could not help but remember this skit when I saw some of the unreasonable backlash to In The Heights.

Perhaps the most preposterous assertion came from The Washington Post which declared in a headline that “‘In the Heights’ is just more of the same whitewashed Hollywood.” The article asserts, “With its White and light-skinned leading roles, the film became part of a long tradition in the Americas of Black erasure.” Really? We must not have seen the same film. I did not see one white actor playing the part of a Latino/a/x individual. Corey Hawkins certainly isn’t light skinned and no one in the United States would ever confuse Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz, Anthony Ramos, or Daphne Rubin-Vega for white. Most Latino/a/x people are of mixed races. My own DNA shows that I come from people who were Portuguese, Spaniard, Native American, African and several other peoples. In my own extended Puerto Rican family, there is a range of skin tones and hair colors and textures. Better examples of whitewashing would be Natalie Wood playing Maria in West Side Story; Marisa Tomei playing Dorita Evita Pérez in The Perez Family; Kyra Sedgwick playing Suzie Morales in Man on a Ledge. Whitewashing is a film like Birth of the Dragon, which was supposed to be about Bruce Lee but is largely told from the point of view a fictitious white character. Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, noted, “The only way to get audiences to understand the depth and uniqueness of my father is to generate our own material.”

Proper representation is best achieved when the people being portrayed have a voice. Isn’t that exactly what In The Heights is doing? Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Nuyorican (New Yorker + Puerto Rican) from the neighborhood (I grew up a few blocks away from him) who, through this musical, is exploring issues that affect all Latino/a/x Americans, of all colors, in various ways including gentrification, immigration, identity, discrimination, and profiling. The character of Nina, for example, was accused of stealing pearls from her dorm mate at Stanford and her belongings searched: the way the story is told leads one to realize this may not have happened if she looked more like Cameron Diaz. The film even features a brief, but effective, exploration of Latina/x women’s history. Miranda and Chu also manage to prominently highlight authentic Latino/a/x cuisine without one Goya product in sight! Including Goya would have been whitewashing.

During the 2019 Museum Mile Festival, a group of protesters distributed flyers at El Museo Del Barrio called the Mirror Manifesto that accused El Museo of abandoning its core values as a museum for the community of East Harlem. The Mirror Manifesto explored the meaning of Latinx:

If El Barrio means neighborhood, or enclave, and we are defining the institution as encompassing a diasporic latinidad, then what we are contending with is what is now being called “Latinx.” Loosely defined, this is the Nuyorican, the Dominiyorker, the first, second, and third generations of Mexicans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Hondurans that make up a barrio in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. It is the El Salvadorian and Guatemalteco kids in Silver Springs, Maryland, the Cubans in New Jersey, the Tejanos, the Chicanos. It is the dreamers and the migrants who identify with a U.S. lived experience. It is the children of immigrants at the border and the children of recently arrived Puerto Ricans in Orlando and Pennsylvania Post- Maria, that have and will grow up here.

In The Heights is not exclusively an exploration of Washington Heights; it is a partial representation of the diasporic Latinidad in the 21st century described above. Miranda and Chu did an exceptional job representing the colors of the Latino/a/x rainbow. Often many of those colors are not represented, except as criminals and maids. You know where the representation is really lacking? American Spanish language television.

James Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time, wrote, “It is rare indeed that people give. Most people guard and keep; they suppose that it is they themselves and what they identify with themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be.” Miranda gave us a story of a hopeful and positive diasporic Latinidad that deftly responded to the bigoted Trump era still lingering. It’s not Scarface or Carlito’s Way. Artists with Miranda and Chu’s scope and vision should be revered, not reviled—they are the ones carving paths. Anyone saying otherwise is just a limited focus group participant.

edwinroman.com

The Perfect Playlist: Goodbye 1990

The modern playlist is the descendant of the mix tape. And like my mix tapes, I make a significant effort to make sure they are right—and by right, I mean that there is a certain cohesion and shared texture that inspires me. What I love about digital versus tape is the great flexibility for experimentation (though, sometimes I do miss walking around Manhattan with my old yellow cassette Sports Walkman).

Thirty years ago, tonight, the world bid farewell to 1990. It was quite the year for me.

I will never forget how 1990 started: I was working for The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) and was stationed alone in Tompkins Square Park at the stroke of midnight. PEP was part of the disgusting war, fostered by gentrification (i.e., the wealthy), on homeless people. PEP’s presence in Tompkins Square Park was part of the aftermath of the 1988 riots. I am deeply ashamed of essentially working against the homeless and working indirectly for the gentrifiers, but I will save that for another blog entry.

My life changed a lot in 1990, notably marked by a devastating heartbreak. Thirty years later, I reflect on this key year in my life with the music that defined the time as I am once again facing devastating heartbreak. Not all of the songs on this playlist are from 1990; some are from 1989 and 1991, but they embody what I was going through, the heartache with moments of exuberance.

On December 31, 1990, I was thankfully off from my job with PEP and was able to spend time with my friends. Earlier that week, I had visited Tower Records and picked up the album, Red Hot + Blue, a compilation album from the Red Hot Organization dedicated to fighting AIDS through pop culture. I first listened to the album while getting ready to go out for the coming New Year. The last song, “Do I Love You?” by Aztec Camera was perhaps the best way to conclude that year as well as 2020.

I am proud that I was able to put this playlist together. Just a few years ago, I could not listen to some of these songs because of the memories they stirred. Today I embrace them as  a comprehensive part of the soundtrack of my life.

Let The Beat Hit ‘Em” by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam from Clivillés and Cole Greatest Hits

Bad Beats Suite” by Sybil from Walk on By

I Wanna Be Where You Are” by Sybil from Walk on By

Power of Love” by Deee-Lite from World Clique

Strike it Up” by Black Box from Dreamland

That’s The Way of the World” by D Mob from That’s The Way of the World

Dancing On The Fire” by India from Breaking Night

The Breeze” by Two Without Hats from Two Without Hats

Together Forever” by Lisette Melendez from Pure 80’s Dance

Come Into My House” by Queen Latifah from All Hail The Queen

Good Life” by Inner City from Good Life

Vogue” by Madonna from I’m Breathless: Music from and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy

A Dream’s a Dream” by Soul II Soul from Vol. 2, A New Decade

Body To Body” by 2 In a Room from Wiggle It

Tell Me Why (Remix)” by Expose from Arista Heritage Series: Expose

Love Will Never Do (Without You)” by Janet Jackson from Rhythm Nation

Someone In The Dark” by TKA from Scars of Love

Promise Me” by The Cover Girls from Show Me

To Be With You” by Noel from Noel

Here We Are” by Gloria Estefan from Cuts Both Ways

Love Will Lead You Back” by Taylor Dayne from Can’t Fight Fate

I Don’t Have the Heart” by James Ingram from It’s Real

Till the End of Time” by Mariah Carey from Emotions

The Wind” by Mariah Carey from Emotions

Do I Love You?” by Aztec Camera from Red Hot + Blue

https://edwinroman.com/

The Perfect Playlist: The Best of Amy Winehouse

The modern playlist is the descendant of the mix tape. And like my mix tapes, I make a significant effort to make sure they are right—and by right, I mean that there is a certain cohesion and shared texture that inspires me. What I love about digital versus tape is the great flexibility for experimentation (though, sometimes I do miss walking around Manhattan with my old yellow cassette Sports Walkman). The playlist featured in this blog entry was easier to compile because it features one artist.

Amy Winehouse. I still miss her.

It has been nine years since she passed away and I often contemplate her missed potential. She was concurrently gruff and tender, but soulful and true. If you think about the state of the pop scene when she rose to prominence, she was a truly authentic voice, not a manufactured cookie cutter. She was the real deal.

She only gave us two albums (Frank and Back to Black), but they were nothing short of extraordinary. A posthumous compilation album (Lioness: Hidden Treasures) was released that contained unreleased songs and a new one that was completed by Nas.

I put this playlist together in January of 2012 and have not changed it once. It is one of the few playlists I have ever gotten right on the first try. The first time I listened to it was on the express bus home and I arrived at my stop just as the last song was playing. I remember I got off the bus and stood there until the song finished. And even after it was over, I stood there for another minute in silence.

The last song on this playlist is “Love is a Losing Game.” I consider this to be her masterpiece. And while this song is indeed an achievement in songwriting, arrangement, recording, and voice, I will always wonder about what could have been.

  1. Body and Soul” (Duet with Tony Bennett) from Duets II
  2. “Tears Dry” from Lioness: Hidden Treasures
  3. In My Bed” from Frank
  4. “Some Unholy War” from Back to Black
  5. “Me and Mr. Jones” from Back to Black
  6. “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” from Lioness: Hidden Treasures
  7. “The Girl from Ipanema” from Lioness: Hidden Treasures
  8. “Valerie” from Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse
  9. “Rehab” from Back to Black
  10. You Know I’m No Good” from Back to Black
  11. Fuck Me Pumps” from Frank
  12. “Like Smoke” (Featuring Nas) from Lioness: Hidden Treasures
  13. “A Song for You” from Lioness: Hidden Treasures
  14. Back to Black” from Back to Black
  15. “Wake Up Alone” from Back to Black
  16. Love is a Losing Game” from Back to Black

https://www.amywinehouse.com/

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Why Disco Doesn’t Suck

I grew up in the Inwood neighborhood of upper Manhattan. Back then the neighborhood had a clear physical division: east of Broadway was primarily populated by Dominicans and other people of color, while the west of Broadway was primarily populated by whites. The neighborhood residents seemed to coexist and share public spaces such as Inwood Park without any strife I was cognizant of. I attended a Catholic grade school where I had friends of varied ethnic backgrounds. I was fortunate in that my first encounter with bigotry was not until I was 12 years old (though as I got older, I certainly experienced it).

In the summer of 1979, I entered Inwood Park and saw this boldly spray-painted on a wall: “Disco Suxs!” For some reason, it rattled me. What was so bad about disco? I was a fan. It had ENERGY and you could dance to it. It made me happy. Back then, and to this day, I never understood people who severely went out of their way to slam something that was not of their taste. If you don’t like something, ignore it and move on—why deface a wall? Why troll online?

I asked my parents about it and that became our first talk about bigotry. Because they knew I loved music so much, they used the history of Motown Records as a way to explain it to me. They noted how Motown played an important role in the racial integration of popular music. After that talk, I never looked at or heard those records in the same way again.

Years later, on a VH1 Behind the Music episode on disco, virtuoso musician and producer, Niles Rodgers conveyed that the hate stemmed from the fact that it was the music of minorities that included people of color and the LGBTQ community. Music critic Robert Christgau noted that homophobia, and most likely racism, were the driving forces behind the anti-disco movement[1] that resulted in a preposterous disco demolition night at Comiskey Park in Chicago. The way the 1960s counterculture ended at Altamont, disco ended at this event (by the way, those in attendance trashed the stadium[2]). The haters were also likely intimated by the liberating physicality of disco dancing and hastily labeled the music as vacuous.

Concurrently forceful and sensual, disco was the resurgence of Dionysian pagan culture in the 20th century. Disco is not vacuous and is indeed complex.

First and foremost, disco took significant effort to produce than say the four-piece bands found in other genres. Disco often contained an ample band, with chordal instruments, drums, percussions, horns, a string orchestra, and various classical solo instruments like the flute. The recording of complex arrangements with a large number of instruments required a team that included a conductor and mixing engineers. Disco also had extraordinary vocalists that included powerhouses such as Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand as well as Gloria Gaynor, Diana Ross, Chic, France Joli, Michael Jackson, Cheryl Lynn, Sylvester, A Taste of Honey, and Barry White.

After the ridiculousness of disco demolition night, disco found a second life in early rap, notably “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang which sampled Chic’s brilliant song, “Good Times.” Disco still lives on under the sapped title of dance music. Dance music is not as beautifully produced as disco but has had many remarkable moments over the last forty years.

If you hated disco in the 1970s, let me encourage you to put aside your prejudices and put on a pair of headphones and embrace the genius. Let the music take you away.

www.edwinroman.com


[1] http://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/pnj/pj78.php

[2] http://www.fuzzymemories.tv/index.php?c=4548

The Music Video as Art: Dark Ballet by Madonna

Since the video became a ubiquitous part of popular music nearly forty years ago, it has sometimes struggled as an art form. The marriage has not always been harmonious: sometimes you have great songs with mediocre videos and vice versa. What I have always appreciated about it, when it does approach art, is that a story or message can be conveyed without the constraint of a script, spoken word, or even the lyrics of the song.

Madonna, who rose to prominence during the early years of the music video, has produced a stunning body of work in both video and song. However, in the last decade, this has not been case; she seemed more occupied with collaborating/cannibalizing younger recording artists and touring than producing thoughtful work. Thankfully, she has returned to form with “Dark Ballet.”

The song and video are essentially a pop version of the opera by Tchaikovsky, The Maid of Orleans, which tells the story of Joan of Arc. Interestingly, this is not Madonna’s first time exploring Joan of Arc in her work: in her last album, Rebel Heart, she had a song titled “Joan of Arc.” In my review, I noted it as the most irritating song because she was essentially complaining about being famous and I questioned what that had to do with Joan of Arc.

“Dark Ballet” is told from Joan of Arc’s point of view. In the brilliant bridge of the song, set to a pulsating electronic arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed-Flutes” from The Nutcracker, Madonna speaks:

“I will not denounce the things that I have said
I will not renounce my faith in my sweet Lord
He has chosen me to fight against the English
And I’m not afraid at all to die ’cause I believe him
God is on my side and I’ll be his bride
I am not afraid ’cause I have faith in him
You can cut my hair and throw me in a jail cell
Say that I’m a witch and burn me at the stake
It’s all a big mistake
Don’t you know to doubt him is a sin?
I won’t give in”

The video is book ended by quotes, with one by Joan of Arc and another by queer poet and activist Mykki Blanco, who was cast as Joan of Arc in the video. Madonna is surprisingly absent except for a very brief cameo. Blanco gives us some incredible acting here. I also can’t heap enough praise on the cinematography, production, and direction by Emmanuel Adjei (he is one to watch).

And while the song and video is about Joan of Arc, it feels as if Madonna and Adjei are also addressing the toxic mix of bigotry and religion that pervades the world: too many people use religion to justify their prejudices and fears.  

Madonna’s pop version of the opera The Maid of Orleans is “Dark Ballet.”

www.edwinroman.com

The Perfect Playlist: The Best of Basia

The modern playlist is the descendant of the mix tape. And like my mix tapes, I make a significant effort to make sure they are right—and by right, I mean that there is a certain cohesion and shared texture that inspires me. What I love about digital versus tape is the great flexibility for experimentation (though, sometimes I do miss walking around Manhattan with my old yellow cassette Sports Walkman). The playlist featured in this blog entry was easier to compile because it features one artist. I first created my “Best of Basia” playlist in 2005, and have updated it with each new album.

I have been a fan of Basia since 1990, when she released her second solo album, London Warsaw New York. I became aware of her because of her superb cover of “Until You Come Back to Me.” I remember using one of the listening stations in Tower Records to listen to the album, which I purchased on vinyl. London Warsaw New York had other remarkable songs such as “Cruising for Bruising,” “Brave New Hope,” and “Baby You’re Mine.” Four years later she followed up with the brilliant The Sweetest Illusion, which features, what I consider to be her masterwork, “Yearning.” Around this time, I finally picked up her first solo album, Time and Tide, which features the title track as well as “New Day for You.”

In 1995 Basia released a live album, Basia on Broadway— a vocal tour de force! Three years later, she released a greatest hits album with several new songs.

Basia would reunite with her Matt Bianco bandmates (her first band) in 2004 on Matt’s Mood and finally release another solo album in 2009 with the beautiful composed and arranged, It’s That Girl Again. Her latest release is Butterflies, which is nothing short of outstanding. I recently updated my Best of Basia playlist to include tracks from Butterflies. Let me know if you like this combination!

  1. “If Not Now Then When” from It’s That Girl Again
  2. “I Must” from It’s That Girl Again
  3. “From Newport to London” from Newport to London
  4. “Matteo” from Butterflies
  5. “Just Another Day” from Peter White’s Caravan of Dreams
  6. “From Now On (Live)” from Basia on Broadway
  7. “Half a Minute (Live)” from Basia on Broadway
  8. “Yearning” from The Sweetest Illusion
  9. “There’s a Tear” from It’s That Girl Again
  10. “It’s That Girl Again” from It’s That Girl Again
  11. “Liang & Zhu” from Butterflies
  12. “Butterfly” from Butterflies
  13. “Waters of March” from Clear Horizon
  14. “Go for You” from Clear Horizon
  15. “Astrud” from Time and Tide
  16. “Where’s Your Pride” from Butterflies
  17. “Baby Your Mine” from London Warsaw New York
  18. “The Prayer of a Happy Housewife” from The Sweetest Illusion
  19. “An Olive Tree” from The Sweetest Illusion
  20. “Reward (Live)” from Basia on Broadway
  21. “Until You Come Back To Me” from Basia on Broadway
  22. “Brave New Hope” from Basia on Broadway

Click here to visit Basia’s website!

edwinroman.com

 

 

The Perfect Playlist: E’s Spanish Jazz 3

Not too long ago my best friend from college sent me a picture of a mix tape that I made for her in 1988 which she remarkably still has. I titled it “Past Tense” after a poem I had written back then. I lost the notebook where I had written that poem, but remembered some of the lines. I also remembered some of the songs on that tape, most notably on all of side a.

vader tape

Social media humor.

The playlist is the descendant of the mix tape. And like my mix tapes, I make a significant effort to make sure they are right. What I mean by right is that there is a certain cohesion and shared texture; it takes me on a journey and inspires. What I love about digital versus tape is flexibility for experimentation. Though, sometimes I do miss walking around Manhattan with my old yellow cassette Sports Walkman.

Interestingly, I made some mix tapes that I thought were so good, that I remembered them and they now exist as playlists on my iPhone / iPod. I thought I would share some of my favorite playlists on my blog. Here is my first one called “E’s Spanish Jazz 3.” It mixes several Spanish language genres. It is also the third and my favorite version of the “Spanish Jazz” playlists. I have included links to YouTube so you can hear the songs for yourself and maybe add it to your own device.

  1. La Pluma by Bloque
  2. La nave del olvido by Buika
  3. Remedios by Gertrudis
  4. Sultanas de Merkaillo by Ojos de Brjuo
  5. Sabor a Mi by Bebo Valdes
  6. Lo Siento Mi Amor by Rocio Jurado
  7. Un Mundo Raro by Lila Downs and Diego El Cigala
  8. Awakeing by The Souljazz Orchestra
  9. Che Che Cole by Antibalas
  10. La Media Vuelta by Falete
  11. Romance de la Luna Tucumana by Diego El Cigala
  12. Tangos De Pepico by Estrella Moraente
  13. Sabor a Mi by El Chicano
  14. Quiereme Mucho by Linda Ronstadt
  15. Querido Emigrante by Milly Quezada
  16. Idiilio by Willie Colon
  17. Bajo La Tormenta by Sergio George’s Salsa Giants
  18. Perfume de Gardenias by Miguel Zenon

P.S. I have about ten versions of “Sabor a Mi”—it is amazing song that many recording artists have covered and I have yet to hear one I have not liked!

P.S. II La nave del olvido by Buika is in my top ten all-time favorite songs!

 

edwinroman.com

A Sleepin’ Bee

A Sleepin' Bee

A Sleepin’ Bee by Edwin Roman

“When a bee lies sleepin’
In the palm o’ your hand
You’re bewitch’d and deep in love’s
Long look’d after land
Where you’ll see a sun-up sky
With the mornin’ new
And where the days go laughin’ by
As love comes a-calling on you
Sleep on, bee, don’t waken,
Can’t believe what just passed
He’s mine for the takin’
I am happy at last.
Maybe I dreams, but he seems
Sweet golden as a crown,
A sleepin’ bee done told me
I will walk with my feet off the ground
When my one true love I has found
Sleep on, bee, don’t waken,
Can not believe what just passed
He’s mine for the takin’
I am happy at last…
Maybe I dreams, but he seems
Golden as a crown,
A sleepin’ bee told me
I will walk with my feet off the ground
When my one true love
I has found…”

Song composed by Harold Arlen with Lyrics by Arlen and Truman Capote

The season six cast of Glee.

Why Glee Matters

Glee was a musical television series that focused on the fictitious McKinley High School glee club, the New Directions. It was conceived in 2005 by Ian Brennan as a film and produced from 2009 to 2015 by prolific television producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (Nip / Tuck, American Horror Story). I started brainstorming this blog entry on the same day that Leonard Nimoy passed away and realized that Glee actually has a lot in common with Star Trek. While Star Trek used science fiction to explore humanity, Glee used music.

One of the most common complaints about the show was that the cast “butchered” great songs. I agree with this, in part, but do not blame the cast; I blame the way they were recorded, with that oddly canned and sternly cleaned-up sound. However, if you watch Glee: The Concert Movie (2011), where the cast sings live, you will hear some really terrific vocals (perhaps it was too expensive to record them live as they acted). Glee excelled at introducing young people to the great songs from rock, pop, R&B, Soul and Broadway songbooks. The show also had some really stellar production numbers and choreography that included impressive re-stagings of Funny Girl and West Side Story.

Star Trek is noted for its progressive, civil rights era viewpoints and one of television’s first multiracial casts. Similarly, Glee should be noted for the way in which marginalized people and groups were given visibility and a voice. Glee portrayed characters with Down syndrome, OCD disorders, obesity and individuals who identified as LGBTQ. Glee also explored various important social issues like bullying, spirituality, racism, race relations, gay marriage and the quality of American education. Andrew Nietor, a former colleague of mine, who is now an immigration attorney, once wrote in his blog:

“When the choice is compassion vs. hatred, compassion will always win. It is also the side favored by history.”

Glee chose compassion and that is why, like Star Trek,  it will be favored by history.

http://www.fox.com/glee

Music Review: Madonna’s Rebel Heart

I have been a  Madonna fan for 30-plus years. Madonna’s initial appeal for me stemmed from the way she brought her East Village sensibility to the mainstream: as a native New Yorker, I totally grooved to this. Later, I would appreciate and identify with the way she let her love of classic music and cinema inspire her work. You can hear and see the influences that include Sly and the Family Stone, Marlene Dietrich, Frida Kahlo, Cabaret, Disco and Walt Whitman. Yes, Walt Whitman. On one of the songs from her 1994 album, Bedtime Stories, she quotes a line from Walt Whitman’s “Voices” from Leaves of Grass. If you had asked me in 1994 if I thought that Madonna would one day write and record a song called “Bitch I’m Madonna” I probably would have replied with a resounding no.

So what the hell happened? How did she go from being inspired by artists from Motown’s roster and Tamara de Lempicka, to being inspired by Nicki Minaj? And before you accuse me of ageism, the point I am trying to make is that her work lately has devolved and not evolved. Madonna is pushing sixty yet her earlier work was far more sophisticated. Using words like “fuck” is not necessarily excelling at songwriting or staying relevant. Is dumbing it down the only way to appeal to young people?

Rebel Heart is not a total loss. There are some good tracks and some really terrible ones. I read that she intended each song to stand-alone so that is how I am going to approach this review.

Living For Love: The best song on the album. An instant classic. Madonna at her best.

Devil Pray: The second track and the second best song. The song explores how people take drugs and religion to connect to a higher level of consciousness.

Ghosttown: The third track and the third best song. The song explores humanity connecting to one another in spite of the world’s insanity.

Unapologetic Bitch: Here is where the album starts to get shaky. The song is catchy, but sounds like something a younger and inexperienced recording artist would sing.

Illuminati: Beyonce meets Minaj.

Bitch I’m Madonna: Perhaps the worst song lyrically. The music is actually appealing, but those lyrics…

Hold Tight: Lyrically good, but overproduced musically.

Joan of Arc: For me, the most irritating song on the album. I find it absolutely ridiculous when she writes songs complaining about being famous (such as “Drowned World” from the brilliant Ray of Light). She sings, “Each time they write a hateful word, Dragging my soul into the dirt, I wanna die, Never admit it but it hurts.” Come on Madonna, you have never publicly uttered a hateful word at others? And what the hell does your fame have to do with Joan of Arc?

Iconic: A fun pop song that features Mike Tyson!

HeartBreakCity: The fourth best track on the album. It explores the aftermath of a relationship that has gone sour after putting your best foot forward. The track could have been better had it not been for the processed vocals.

Body Shop: A tongue-in-cheek song about the parallels between cars and sex.

Holy Water: A peculiar song about the miracles of oral sex. Okay Madonna, I guess eating your pussy is like holy water…? I cringed when I heard her sing, “Bitch get off my pole.” Where did you get the idea for that lyric, a reality show? She also sings, “Yeezus loves my pussy best.” I am pretty sure that she originally sang it as “Jesus”, but someone likely told her to tone it down because most of the world may not remember that she once had a boy toy named Jesus Luz (I could imagine her defending why she sang the lyric using him as the “inspiration”).

Inside Out: A great song about getting closer to someone by asking them to confess their deepest secrets. Another song where I wish she hadn’t over processed her vocals.

Wash All Over Me: A pretty good song that explores life’s uncertainties that could have been great, but again we have the over processed vocals.

Best Night: A boring song about having sex. Snooze.

Nas and Madonna

Nas gets licked by Madonna.

Veni Vidi Vici: This autobiographical song incorporates past song titles into the lyrics and features Queensbridge Rap Legend, Nas. Nas’ contribution was the best thing about this song.

S.E.X.: And yet another boring, and remarkably unimaginative song, about screwing. Yawn.

Messiah: A brilliant song about trying win over someone’s heart. I wish it were more acoustic because it had the potential to be an emotional and vocal tour de force.

Rebel Heart: The title track where Madonna finally showcases some vocals without that processing—which doesn’t translate well while listening with headphones. The track is a departure from many of the other overproduced tracks on this album.

If Madonna had cut songs like “Unapologetic Bitch” and “Bitch I’m Madonna” and brought a more acoustic feel to some of the vocals, this could have been a good album. A rebel is a person who resists any authority, control, or tradition. While I would certainly consider Madonna an artist with a rebel heart, by dumbing down lyrics to stay relevant and appeal to young people, what she is actually doing is simply marching in step with everyone else.